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De Blasio Finds Biggest Win in Pre-K, but Also Lasting Consequences

November 7, 2017
William Neuman
New York Times

During high-pressure meetings to plan the expansion of prekindergarten during his first months in City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio would invoke the D-Day invasion of Normandy: There it is on the horizon, he would say, we are approaching the beach, we need a full-on assault. He spoke of it so often that a staff member gave him a picture of the landing, which he kept on the mantelpiece in his office.

Making free, full-day prekindergarten available to all 4-year-olds was the most visible and ambitious promise that Mr. de Blasio made when he campaigned for mayor, so making good on that pledge when he came into office in 2014 was crucial. And he delivered. Full-day prekindergarten enrollment grew to 53,000 in September 2014, from 19,000 a year earlier. It reached 68,000 the next year. Parents were generally pleased, and even his critics were impressed.

Now as Mr. de Blasio seeks a second term in an election on Nov. 7, the success of universal prekindergarten stands out as the most salient achievement of his mayoralty. It showed that Mr. de Blasio could meet an ambitious goal intended to address the inequality between rich and poor New Yorkers, but one that also helped the middle class. And it showed that a liberal mayor — the first Democrat to occupy City Hall in two decades — could get things done.

“It was the proving ground of the capacity to actually do big things,” the first deputy mayor, Anthony Shorris, said, citing other large-scale programs, like those for affordable housing, a city ID card and neighborhood policing.